Lunt,-Peter - University of Brighton Faculty of Arts

Regulation and Media Literacy
Peter Lunt
University of Leicester
Peter Lunt and Sonia Livingstone (in press, 2012)
Media Regulation: Governance and the interests
of citizens and consumers. London: Sage.
Regulatory Agencies the UK Case
• A co-regulatory arrangement
– The Advertising Standards Authority
• Previously a self-regulatory body
– Ofcom
• Statutory Regulator
– Retains specific competencies (timing and placement of
advertising, content regulation)
• With other primary stakeholders
– The Committee of Advertising Practice
– Trades Association
• The Advertising Association
• And a wider range of stakeholder interests
The Advertising Standards Authority
• Provides advice to marketing industry
• Publicises its work
– Advertising, seminars, speeches, leaflets, briefing notes,
• The CODES (produced by independent bodies BCAP,
CAP) require interpretation – which the ASA gives help
and guidance on
• The ASA adjudicates if there is a COMPLAINT that an
advert breaches the CODES
• Handles c12,000 complaints a year
• Council meets monthly to adjudicate
– Failure to comply handled by regulatory agencies
• Ofcom, OFT
• Conducts research
• Compliance, identifies trends, areas for action and guidance
ASA Complaint Handling
• Receives complaint
– Decide whether there is a case to answer
• Consider the Complaint
– Response by advertiser
• Decision
– Complaint uphold
• Take Action (withdraw or amend advert)
– Advising Caution
– Complaint not upheld
• Publication of case
• Final check on compliance
• No legal powers to enforce the code
• Soft powers
– Refuse advertising
– Adverse publicity
– Trade sanctions
– Removal of trade incentives
– Refer case to Office of Fair Trading
– Mandatory poster pre-vetting
ASA on Literacy
The Plethora of Literacies
• The expectation that ordinary people can and
will become informed decision makers,
competent in maximising their opportunities
and minimising their risks
– Consumer literacy
– Health literacy
– Financial literacy
– Environmental literacy
– Media literacy ……..
Increased interest in literacy reflects
broader trends
• The changing role of the state
– From determining the public good and protecting
– To consumer education and enabling transparency
in markets
– From protective democracy and the welfare state
to neoliberalism and reformist social democracy
Proliferation but narrowing of
• The focus is on consumer literacy
• Traditionally a broader approach
– The Educational Agenda
– The Creativity Agenda
– Empowerment
• Means of expression and modes of participation
– Critical scholars/civil society groups
• citizenship
1990s The Great Literacy Debate
• The protectionist agenda continued
– But
• Concerns about perceived failures of adult literacy
campaigns and the haphazard take up of government public
information campaigns
• The rediscovery of the traditions of literacy
involving empowerment, cultural and political
expression and participation – enabled by
interpreting the codes and realising the potential
of media
• Mediation
A Puzzling Task for the New Media
Regulator Ofcom
• Section 11 of the Communications Act 2003
– Ofcom has a duty to ‘promote media literacy’ among the
general public
• Part of a broader strategy of the New Labour
The Digital Britain Agenda
A Minister for Digital Inclusion
A Champion for Digital Inclusion
Review of School Media Education Curriculum
Increased Requirements placed on broadcasters and
content providers to educate the public in the emerging
conventions of digital representation and creation.
Nevertheless Ofcom’s remit unclear
• In our interview (2005) with Ofcom’s
Communications Director
– “It’s a very diffuse concept. It’s really hard to nail
– Possibly Ofcom had an unachievable task
– Especially given EC restrictions on funding for nonregulatory activities – grant in aid from DCMS
Communications Act 2003
… bring about or encourage others to bring about …
a better public understanding of the nature and characteristics of material
published by means of the electronic media;
(2) a better public awareness and understanding of the processes by which such
material is selected, or made available, for publication by such means;
(3) the development of a better public awareness of the available systems by which
access to material published by means of the electronic media is or can be regulated;
(4) the development of a better public awareness of the available systems by which
persons to whom such material is made available may control what is received and of
the uses to which such systems may be put; and
(5) the development and use of technologies and systems for regulating access to such
material, and for facilitating control over what material is received, that are both
effective and easy to use
Ofcom Consults
• The act focuses on understanding the nature of
media contents, of production and access to
– Contrasts with the broader agendas for literacy
considered above
• On the definition of ‘media literacy’
– 94 Responses from
Public bodies
Diverse individuals
The Definition in the Consultation
• “So media literacy is a range of skills including the ability to access,
analyse, evaluate and produce communications in a variety of forms. Or
put simply, the ability to operate the technology to find what you are
looking for, to understand that material, to have an opinion about it and
where necessary to respond to it. With these skills people will be able to
exercise greater choice and be able better to protect themselves and their
families from harmful or offensive materials”. (Ofcom, 2004b: 4)
• First sentence is a translation of definition emerging from the National
Leadership Conference on Media Literacy 1993
– The ability ‘to access, analyse, evaluate and communicate messages in a
variety of forms’
• Ofcom’s discursive shifts
– Ability  skills
– Access  operate technology
– Communicating  responding (when ‘necessary’
• The purposes of media literacy is radically scaled back to centre on
consumer choice and protection from harm
Ofcom Commissions Research: knowledge
production and evidence based policy
• Academic Literature reviews
– Adults Livingstone
– Children Buckingham
• National surveys (literacy audits)
• Ofcom’s work brought a welcome prominence to the media
literacy agenda and moved away from the early
protectionist agenda (inherent in the act) to support an
empowerment approach
– Ofcom claims its work on literacy is intended
• to give people the opportunity and motivation to develop
competence and confidence to participate in digital society; and
• to inform and empower people to manage their own media activity
(both consumption and creation).
Contrast with DCMS Definition of
Media Literacy
• Media literacy is the ability to use a range of media and
be able to understand the information received. At a
higher level, it includes the ability to question, analyse
and evaluate that information. (DCMS, n.d.)
• “At a time when commercial influences over content
are increasing (via product placement, advertising,
sponsorship, advergames, marketing to children, etc.),
political influences over content are diversifying, and
public input into content is threatened, such low
expectations for public levels of media literacy stand
out” Livingstone and Lunt, in press, 123).
Media Literacy an International
– FCC recognises digital literacy + economic disadvantage as
barriers to adoptio of new technologies
– Media Education Kit
– Development of Information Literacy Indicators
• Internet Governance Forum
– Internet literacy emerging as an agenda
– Dynamic Forum on Information Literacy (2009)
• Europe
– Digital Agenda (2010)
• However, there were considerable debates in the European context
Definitional Diversity in Europe
Media, especially new digital technologies, involve more Europeans in a world of
sharing, interaction and creation. … However, people who cannot use new media
like social networks or digital TV will find it hard to interact with and take part in
the world around them. We must make sure everyone is media literate so nobody
is left out. Citizens are being talked to all the time, but can they talk back? If they
can use the media in a competent and creative way we would take a step towards
a new generation of democratic participation. (Viviane Reding, European
Commission Information Society and Media Commissioner, European Commission,
Discussions over the Lisbon Agenda (2000, 2005)
– European Strategy for a globally competitive Information Society
Media Literacy appeared to become a point of consensus between market liberals
and those promoting a reformist political agenda
– But
Critics concerned with vagueness of ‘empowerment’
For its advocates, media literacy is the only sensible way forward for a converged media environment
in which a skilled workforce, a competitive market and an empowered citizenry are all crucial.
• A narrow definition – similar to Ofcom’s
– In response to consultation an item was added
• ‘the ability to create and communicate messages as it is considered essential
in enabling people to make effective use of media in the exercise of their
democratic rights and civic responsibilities’ (European Commission, 2007)
• In contrast, the TVWF Directive
– Focuses on consumer protection
• Harm and offence, consumer rights
– Cultural, social, citizenship issues – subsidiarity
• Critics might observe that, notwithstanding the mention of
‘citizens’, media literacy here seems individualised, prioritising
consumers and consumer choice over citizens and citizens’ rights,
and prioritising protection over participation.
• Recent attempts by UNESCO to broaden statements is influencing
Emergent Themes in attempts to
regulate for media literacy
• The tendency for the issue to be marginalised
and narrowed in focus
• The focus on children
• The inability to transcend the broader debate
between protectionist and empowerment
Problematising ‘Self-Regulation’
Moran (2003), Black (2001)
– The dichotomy of command and control and self-regulation problematic
Command and control – problems
Self-regulation – in a legal context
Scott et al, Baldwin and Cave
– Mapping a range of regulatory agencies and strategies
– And a range of regulatory agencies
“… self-regulation is much better seen not as a pervading regulatory approach, but
as part of a shifting set of regulatory techniques, the mix depending on external
political, economic and social factors” (Prosser, 2008: 100)
Lunt and Livingstone (in press)
– Ofcom as a regulatory agency
Adopts a range of regulatory strategies
In collaboration with a variety of agencies (including self-regulatory bodies, government departments,
civil society representatives and the public)
In a legal context – statutory regulator
Range of Practices and actions
Explaining Regulation
• Systems theory
– Autopoietic systems – governing as a steering mechanism
• Governmentality
– Collaborative strategies – dispersed powers and institions
• Critical Theory
– Normative theories of regulation
• Sociology of law + protection of rights
– effectiveness (facts) plus legitimacy (norms)
– Participation and accountability
• Legitimacy and effectiveness as empirical questions
• The New Institutionalism
• A range of regulatory practices
Selective enforcement
Creating conditions for competitive but fair markets
Encouraging cultures in which public policy goals are internalised
Public engagement
Normative Criteria for Regulation
from Habermas Between Facts and Norms
(i) recognises when it is dealing with issues of public concern, within a reflexive awareness of the
problems of society as a whole, in such a way as to acknowledge and enable deliberation among
the different, and often unequally resourced viewpoints and interests at stake while effectively
resolving the issue at hand;
(ii) recognises through its principles and practices that it represents one institution among many
(state, corporate, public, civil society, etc.), each with its own logic and demands, while also dealing
fairly with the public sphere (which operates within the ‘lifeworld’ rather than the ‘system world’,
as Habermas terms it), balancing these often conflicting requirements without sacrificing one to
the other;
(iii) gives equal recognition to effectiveness (ensuring that markets are competitive and that
consumers are protected) and legitimation (ensuring the engagement and assent of that public in
whose interest regulation operates) , for promoting one may or may not promote the other, and
neglecting either risks a vicious circle of negativity and distrust;
(iv) respect rather than undermine the right to self-determination of citizens, judging the nature
and consequences of its institutional processes and decisions reflexively as these unfold in practice
(rather than presuming about them in the abstract). By system world, Habermas refers to the
dominant logic of strategic and instrumental rationality as it operates in institutions and other
formalised structures, by contrast with the lifeworld, characterised by informal ways of life and
modes of everyday communication, whether in the public sphere or the intimate realm of the
family (Outhwaite, 1996).

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